Letting the light shine for RBG

Letting the light shine for RBG

Area residents were among those nationwide holding vigils at courthouses to mourn the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

As Saturday turned to dusk at the quiet of a closed-for-the-weekend county courthouse in Brattleboro, a lone figure walked up, carrying a kerosene lantern.

All over the country, vigils were taking place at courthouses, organized less than 24 hours after news of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg broke the day before.

To many, Ginsburg, 87, was a hero who as an attorney argued groundbreaking cases in front of the highest court in the land before she herself would be named to the bench by then-President Bill Clinton in 1993.

For many in a region whose politics famously run far left of center, Ginsburg provided a reliably liberal - and, in recent years, pivotal - vote on the high court on issues like health care and abortion rights.

But she was more than that for a generation who also admired her work ethic, her drive, and her convictions. Her accomplishments, her resilience in the face of multiple fights with cancer, and even her workout routine touched people - especially women - at a personal level.

There was still half an hour until a candlelight vigil was set to begin. But Suzy May was the first to arrive.

“The whole idea of how she lived was based in integrity,” said May. “The whole idea of taking action when something needs to change - it's a powerful thing.”

“I think the world's kind of on its head right now, and if we could sit together at a vigil, I think that's kind of cool,” she said.

People - mostly women, but some men and a few children - started coming quietly, one or two at a time, carrying votives, table candles, lanterns, flashlights.

In the end, 50 people, more or less, came to the courthouse lawn. Some carried signs; one family set up a box as a mini-shrine. They spontaneously positioned themselves into a constantly enlarging circle with some degree of social distance.

There were no agendas, no bullhorns. Individual remarks were bracketed by long stretches of silence, punctuated by the soundscape of traffic on Putney Road.

A few people spoke through their masks. Some sang.

One young couple listened, leaning on each other, each rubbing the other's back tenderly.

One woman recited the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. It turned into a call-and-response.

“How do you know that?” one person asked.

Schoolhouse Rock,” she replied.

“It is so tempting at times like this to just sort of feel like giving into despair, that there's this crazy train that we seem to be on, and the train needs to be stopped,” one woman said to the circle. “If anyone's going to stop this train, it's going to be us.”

“I think that's how we honor the legacy of someone who put her whole entire life into protecting the human rights of other people,” she continued. “That's the only way to do her legacy justice. That's why I'm here.”

“I think we all have to stand individually for integrity, for truth, and for justice,” another woman said.

Vigil participants sang “Ella's Song,” an anthem - written by Sweet Honey in the Rock's Bernice Johnson Reagon in honor of civil and human rights activist Ella Baker - with the refrain “We who believe in freedom cannot rest.”

They also sang the national anthem.

In Newfane, a quiet ceremony

The Brattleboro vigil was among several held around Vermont on the night of Sept. 19. Similar vigils were organized in Bennington, Burlington, Montpelier, and Newfane by the Burlington-based Peace and Justice Center.

The Newfane vigil was organized by Brenda Siegel. She stood alone on the steps of the Windham County Courthouse for the first part of the vigil.

Siegel said she organized the vigil late that afternoon at the request of the Peace and Justice Center, and said she was not surprised at being the only person there at 7 p.m., when the vigil was scheduled to start.

“It's hard to get people in Newfane to show up for something this, especially on such short notice,” Siegel said. “But I wanted to be here, even if I was the only person. She was such an inspiration to me, especially in how she persisted and how she fought so hard for the rights of women.”

After about 20 minutes, she was joined by her niece, Audrey Maples. One candle flickering in the fading twilight became two.

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